|Cut nails after 1800, Eric Sloan.
A still further examination of cut nails, from dated houses,
shows that they may be distinguished into two classes;
- namely those appearing between c. 1800 and c. 1825, with imperfect
or irregular heads, or, more particularly, hammered heads; that
is, heads showing the facets of more than one hammer blow, and
- those appearing after c. 1825, and throughout the following
century, with stamped heads, showing level tops impressed by
a single blow or stamp.
Information gathered with difficulty from the Patent Office records
and books, makes it probable (subject to correction by dated nails)
that in general, up to 1825, the nail-cutting machines had not
been perfected; in other words, that while after 1825, nail machinery
produced cut nails at a single operation, before that time, two
machines, run by hand power, but not yet by steam, nor even by
water, one to cut, as described above, and another, probably nothing
more than a special vise to hold the shank while hand-hammering
the head, were used in the manufacture of cut nails.
The hand-cranked machine, for cutting and heading nails at one
operation, patented by Nathan Read of Salem, Mass., in 1798 (See
model at Essex Institute, Salem, Mass.), was not a success. Neither
were any of the other "cutting and heading" machines,
or simple "heading" machines, in existence or patented
at that time, as is shown by the evidence of the nails themselves,
and further in the Diary of Rev. William Bentley, who visited
Read's nail works in 1810 (See Essex Institute Historical Collections,
April, 1918, page 113), and found that the workmen were then heading
nails in the only way thus far successful, namely, by hand,
"as it is found heading is done better by hand than by
any machine as yet invented both as to time and good-ness of
Joseph Whitaker (See his manuscript diary in the library of the
Bucks County Historical Society) was also thus making cut nails
in Philadelphia, from 1809 to 1816-20, by a double operation;
namely, cutting the plates with a hand-cranked machine and afterwards
hammer-heading the shanks held in a clamp worked by a foot lever.
It further appears, that, at first, since the knife of the cutting
machine was set diagonally so as to cross-cut the nail-plate into
a tapered slice, the workmen had to turn the plate upside down
at each stroke, so as to continue the taper by reversing the cut;
and the very earliest cut nails (1800 to c. 1810) prove this fact
by the down smear of the knife, round-edged above and sharp below,
being reversed on the two opposing cut sides of the nail shank.
They also show, that very early in the nineteenth century, this
troublesome turning of the nail-plate was superseded by wriggling
or staggering the blade of the cutter during the operation, so
as to reverse the taper at each stroke without, turning the nail-plate.
At first, also, in order to dispense with the difficulty of the
usual heading, angle-headed (L headed) and headless nails called
"brads" were made. But as these latter continued in
use for certain purposes (often for floors) until long after the
middle of the nineteenth century, their confused evidence should
here be thrown out of consideration.
Dating of Old Houses,
Henry C. Mercer, SC.D., Doylestown, Pennsylvania, 1923.
The introduction of cut nails dates from the late 16th century
with the advent of water-powered 'slitting mills'. After hammering
(or, from the late 17th century, rolling) the hot iron into sheets,
each sheet was slit into long, square-sectioned bars by rollers
which cut like a shears. Bars of the requisite thickness were
then made into nails and spikes by 'nailers'. Only the head and
the point were forged, so these nails, which were common from
the 17th to the early 19th century, can be distinguished from
earlier ones by the sharp regular profile of the cut section.
and Wood Screws, The Building Conservation Directory, 1999